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Burning of the Clavie 2022: Fiery night in Burghead cancelled due to Covid restrictions

People silhouetted against the burning Clavie in Burghead.
The spectacle of the Burning of the Clavie in Burghead attracts big crowds to the community. Photo: Jason Hedges/DCT Media

Organisers of the Burning of the Clavie in Burghead have confirmed the centuries-old tradition will be cancelled for only the second time since the Second World War in 2022 due to Covid restrictions.

The ancient ritual of carrying a 100kg burning barrel through the streets of the Moray town before hoisting it to the top of the headland has been done by generations of Brochers.

A coronavirus lockdown forced the event to be cancelled in 2021 – the first time Clavie night was snuffed out since the Second World War.

Now organisers have warned the large crowds commonly associated with the celebrations, including hundreds who follow the procession, mean the streets of the town will once again remain dark on January 11.

Clavie King Dan Ralph almost engulfed in fire.
Clavie King Dan Ralph. Photo: Jason Hedges/DCT Media

A social media statement from organisers said they had left the decision as late as possible in the restrictions would allow – but have now had to cancel.

It said: “I’m sure this will be a disappointment to all Brochers home and away but government restrictions allow only 500 people to attend outdoor events .

“We have left the decision as late as possible in the hope that there might have been a relaxation in the current guidelines but this not being the case we regretfully have no choice.”

A week before the big night, Clavie King Dan Ralph doubted good news would come.

He said: “It does attract a big crowd so we are risking a bit of trouble if we do go ahead. We have more or less decided it isn’t going to happen, we’re going to get together to talk about it.

“If it does happen then it will be a decision taken about half an hour before it starts – but it seems highly unlikely.

“Everything is against us at the moment because of the crowds. It’s a really bad time.

“It’s a shame, because we really enjoy it.”

Why can’t the Burning of the Clavie go ahead in 2022?

Scottish Government Covid rules put the running of the Burning of the Clavie in Burghead in 2022 in serious doubt before Christmas.

The event takes place strictly on January 11 to celebrate what was the New Year on the ancient Julian calendar, which was created by the Romans – despite the rest of Scotland switching to what is now Hogmanay in the 18th Century.

Organisers, known as the Clavie Crew, strictly stick to the date with no cancellations or postponements allowed while facing the worst of the January weather from the Moray Firth.

Large crowds follow the Clavie through the streets of Burghead.
Large crowds follow the Clavie through the streets of Burghead. Photo: DCT Media

The event was only called off during the Second World War due to concerns the burning flames would be spotted by enemy pilots in the sky amid blackout conditions.

However, the Christmas lockdown in 2020, which stretched in 2021, forced the organisers to cancel.

And now current restrictions due to the Omicron variant mean the capacity at all outdoor events has been capped at 500 – while thousands regularly descend on Burghead to watch the event.

The Scottish Government rules add: “No exemptions to these capacity limits will be made at this time.

“There must be a distance of one metre between groups of up to three households at all indoor and outdoor events.”

The same rules forced many Hogmanay events to be cancelled as well as some fireworks displays on Bonfire Night.

What are the origins of Clavie night in Burghead?

The exact origins of Clavie night in Burghead are not known due to it being celebrated longer than living memory.

Barrel burning and fire festivals were once common in the north-east with Stonehaven continuing to turn the heat up on Hogmanay.

The mile-long peninsula Burghead now stands upon was once the site of a massive Pictish fort, three times the size of any other known about in Scotland.

It is believed the tradition may stretch back to the days of the settlement, which has ruins dating back to the late 3rd Century.

Carrying the flames through streets in the town is also said to scare off demons while also coming as the nights start to become visibly shorter again.

Collecting charred wooden staves that have fallen from the Clavie is believed to bring good luck for the coming year.

What is for certain is that while the rest of Scotland celebrates its big night on Hogmanay, Burghead defiantly continues to bring in the bells on Clavie night on January 11.

Relive Clavie night from 2019…

VIDEO & GALLERY: Centuries-old tradition continues to burn bright on Moray coast

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